Eric Riedel 0

AR letter to the board

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Members of the North East School Board, We, the undersigned, wish to express concerns relevant to the implementation of the Accelerated Reading Program (AR) at the Intermediate Elementary, grades 3-5. The AR program was originally designed by Renaissance Learning to be part of a comprehensive reading block, not replacing direct classroom instruction, but rather supporting and enhancing it. It is apparent to many parents/guardians of the district who have had or currently have children in grades 3-5, that the AR program, has, unfortunately, supplanted the core of literacy instruction in the Intermediate Elementary. In essence, AR has replaced essential, quality direct instruction sacrificing the high-quality, balanced literacy program that occurs in Davis Primary, K-2. Daily, students in grades 3-5 spend at least 40 minutes of valuable, instructional class time independently reading books within their zone of proximal development. Each child, regardless of reading ability, is assigned the same goal in order to qualify for a high stakes reward at the end of each grading quarter. For some students, this goal can be achieved with ease, while for others it is downright challenging and maybe impossible. Those unable to achieve the goal are separated from their peers during recess, pressured to stay after school to read, and/or pushed to come in on weekends to read and take AR tests. This practice of punishment for not reading enough within an expected time frame is taking the joy out of reading, making this pleasurable pastime a daunting task. AR was designed to drive and target instruction, encouraging instructional remediation when a child demonstrates an inability to reach an overall accuracy rate of 85% on books read. Emphasizing the attainment of points over accuracy as a primary goal and sacrificing remediation undermines Renaissance Learning’s intent of the AR program. As stated by Renaissance Learning in “Getting Results with Accelerated Reading: In sports and other competitions, a player wins by earning more points than anybody else. Sometimes, schools approach AR in the same way and recognize students who earn the most points. We discourage this practice. It’s true that a student who has earned a large number of points has done quite a bit of reading, and that’s good. But when schools focus primarily on points, a couple of things tend to happen: • Students choose inappropriate books. In their zeal to earn points and rewards, able readers read dozens of easy low-point books; struggling readers choose high-point books that are too difficult. All students lose sight of the primary goal, which is to read interesting books at the level of difficulty that is right for each of them as individuals. • When all students pursue the same goal- to earn the most points -less skilled readers are handicapped. Since only a few students “win,” those who feel they can never win give up. • Students cheat. To try to earn more points, they take quizzes without reading books, and they share answers. Instead of encouraging students to compete for points, we recommend that you set personalized point goals. These take into account each student’s ability level and enable every student to succeed and grow. Due to the manner in which the AR program is implemented in the Intermediate Elementary, our children have experienced these negative outcomes. In 2000, a National Reading Panel report “Teaching Children to Read” stated: Effective reading programs are balanced: Students receive direct systematic instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics skills, and comprehension strategies, and they are given opportunities to apply their knowledge in a variety of “natural settings.” An imperative in our district is a balanced, integrated literacy program consisting of appropriate guided reading, word work, read to/with, and Writer’s Workshop that continues from K-2 through grades 3-5 as a core curriculum. This, along with AR as one of many supplemental tools, will build fluent readers with strong comprehension skills. It is time to reevaluate our AR program at the North East Intermediate. Students should be treated as individuals and set up for success with a goal that is specifically designed to meet their needs, whether individual goals or establishing peer teams, as suggested by Renaissance. We do not believe in high stakes, costly rewards, but celebrate achievements and efforts with small tokens of praise. We request a reduction of time allotted for independent reading and an increase in time for direct instruction utilizing best practices, providing the students of North East School District with the highest quality education possible in an environment that is most conducive to learning.

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